Mayor Miller explains anti-violence campaign, homeless relief efforts, plans for future GDOT summit

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answers the public’s questions monthly on 13WMAZ through the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University

When combatting Macon-Bibb County’s climbing homicide rate, Mayor Lester Miller said the benefits of the Macon Violence Prevention program will likely take years to manifest. (00:45 into video)

“This is not going to be instantaneous where you stop bullets from flying,” Miller said during the August edition of Ask Mayor Miller, an interview program that aired Saturday on 13WMAZ.

Beginning in the second month of his administration, the mayor has sat for monthly interviews with the Center for Collaborative Journalism where he answers the public’s questions. In August, Miller responded to inquiries about efforts to combat violent crime and increase law enforcement presence (5:00 into video), issues with homelessness and panhandling (9:20), the new amphitheater (16:00) and newly-forged cooperation with the Georgia Department of Transportation (18:40).

By addressing root causes of violence by counseling and educating young people, Miller said the MVP program is taking a long-term approach.

The mayor also said law enforcement knows there is a small group of people that is causing the majority of the problems.

“When the sheriff arrests those folks, they are going to have to stay in jail until their court case comes up,” Miller said. “We’ve seen time and time again that people who have committed offenses and had victims across Macon-Bibb County, they’re let out of jail. Within a reasonably short period of time, they reoffend.”

Miller also said he is pleased with the ShotSpotter technology the sheriff’s office is using to help pinpoint shooting locations which can be a valuable tool when someone shows up at the hospital with a gunshot wound, but refuses to explain where and why it happened.

The sheriff’s office remains about 75 patrol deputies short, Miller said, but the mayor pointed to the recent crackdown shutting down nuisance motels, and the county commission approving restricted hours for vice mart convenience stores as means of reducing the number of 911 calls coming in.

Tackling aggressive panhandlers, homeless camps

This year’s “point in time” count of unhoused people in Macon-Bibb County showed a drop in the homeless community, Miller said.

“The last time I think we looked at the numbers, there was 190-something and it went down to 142,” said Miller, who credited the opening of the Brookdale Resource Center shortly after he took office for the reduction in the census. “That’s something we can be proud of. We still have a problem with chronic homelessness.”

The mayor said a long-term plan is in the works to get the chronically homeless, the most severe cases, into housing with wraparound services.

Miller also plans to crackdown on aggressive panhandlers who make residents uncomfortable.

“Not everyone you see on that corner holding a sign, asking for money, or aggressive panhandlers, those folks are not necessarily homeless and I think we have to distinguish that,” he said.

In the next few months, the county’s code enforcement officers will be deployed to interstate exits and other areas where panhandlers frequent.

“Part of their duties are going to be to manage the aggressive panhandling we have and make sure that people feel safe when they get off those exits and near the stores,” Miller said.

The county also has a request for proposal listed on its procurement site to hire a firm to do a thorough study of the unhoused to determine what their needs are and find solutions, he said.

Another GDOT summit down the road

The first summit between the Georgia Department of Transportation and Macon-Bibb County leaders went so well that another is planned for October, Miller said.

Local transportation engineers, planners and pedestrian safety advocates were frustrated over the lack of GDOT attention to road safety issues on state highways, like Gray Highway.

“We got everybody in the room, had some very frank conversations,” Miller said.

The lines of communication have been established and the county learned of opportunities the state provides to assist the local government with safety projects in the near term, while long-range plans for projects are being developed.

The meeting also cleared up some confusion about the location of “Gray Highway.”

While the mayor was considering the stretch from Spring Street to Shurling Drive as needing attention, GDOT identifies the Gray Highway corridor as from Shurling Drive to the county line.

“Everybody left there feeling that their voices have been heard and we really have a plan to move forward on our roads,” Miller said. “It’s nice to bring everyone together without having to spend a lot of money on a consultant. When we all work together for a common cause, we understand our roles and responsibility, a lot of great things can happen. So I’m very excited about what comes in the future.”

Send your Ask Mayor Miller questions to [email protected]. Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.